Bioinspired Materials and Membranes for Energy-Efficient Liquid Separation

Project Background

Oil pollution is a serious global issue because of the large amounts of oily wastewater produced by petrochemical and other industries, as well as by frequent off-shore oil-spill accidents. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) issues guidance addressed at all companies involved in offshore exploration and production where oil may be released into the sea or other water systems. The regulatory limit for the concentration of oil in produced water discharged into the sea is set at a 30 mg/l performance standard (this figure applies as averaged over a monthly period). At any one time the concentration must not exceed 100 mg/l. The regulatory also limit for mass of oil in water discharged into the sea must not exceed 1 tonne in any 12 hour period. Therefore, it is in great need to develop effective techniques to treat oil-polluted wastewater at such low oil/grease concentrations in order to satisfy the stringent governmental limitations and preserve the environment.

Membrane techniques have been widely employed for water purification and are very effective in separating stabilized oil emulsions - especially in removing oil droplets. However, current membranes suffer from severe fouling both on surface and in internal structures, which significantly limits their service time and degrades separation performance in practical operations. Therefore, the fabrication of ultrafiltration (UF) membranes with antifouling behavior is very promising.

Research and Training

In this Ph.D. project, a group of low-oil-adhesion, underwater superoleophobic UF membranes/coatings will be designed, characterised, and tested for a broad range of applications in oil-polluted water treatment.

The strategic goals for this project are:

  1. Adopt the concept of biomimetic hierarchical roughness in membrane design for creating superoleophobic (antifouling) membrane surfaces from a vast pool of candidate materials, such as zeolites, metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and single-layered graphene oxide
  2. Characterise and evaluate their Oil/water separation performance using both dead-end filtration system and continuous cross-flow filtration apparatus
  3. Develop facile, low-cost, and scalable technique for antifouling UF membrane preparation
  4. Work on large-scale UF membrane production and testing


This project will heavily rely on experiments as well as active interdisciplinary collaborations. The candidate will have chance to work closely with UK-based/international industrial partners, to present latest data in national/international conferences, and, therefore, to delivery high-impact separation technology to the existing membrane society.

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School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh

Principal Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree.

Students with background in the selected disciplines are encouraged to apply:

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Materials/Chemical Science
  • Chemistry
  • A related subject with strong materials chemistry content

Previous research experience in nanomaterials synthesis or membrane separation is highly desirable.  

Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Applications are welcomed from self-funded students, or students who are applying for scholarships from the University of Edinburgh or elsewhere.

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: 

Closing Date: 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018